In the camp, prior to the hunt, the sole occupation of the day is the pursuit of pleasure. From every tent and shelter comes the sound of laughter; every camp-fire furnishes its quota of jest and song. Here a small but excited circle, gathered under the shade of a cart, are deeply engaged in gambling by what is known as the moccasin game. In an empty moccasin are placed sundry buttons and bullets, which, being shaken up involve the guessing of the number in the shoe. The ground before the players is covered with guns, capotes, and shirts, the men often stripping the clothing from their backs to satisfy his passion for play, or staking their last horse and cart. Elsewhere, another like-minded party might be gambling with cards, the stakes being a medley of everything owned by the players.
In many tents visiting would be happening and you could hear the clinking of cups, boisterous laughter and songs, with people loudly telling stories of escaping the direst enemies of the hunters. In another quarter feasting is the order of the day, and the small stock of provisions, designed to supply the family until the buffalo were reached, was being devoured. The hosts knew that until they found the buffalo they could go hungry, but until then he holds his feast and its consequent famine because he is expected to be a great host.
About the many campfires stand, or crouch, the wives of the hunters, busily engaged in cooking and gossiping with neighbors, while their numerous children play about in the dust and dirt with wolfish-looking dogs. The babies lay bundled and fastened to boards, leaned against cart-wheels, doubtless dreaming questions pertinent to babyhood. Elsewhere the aged leaders of the hunt might be seen congregated, with a young man sitting upon the wheel of a cart playing melodies from a fractured violin to a crowd of listeners applauding each performance and suggesting their favorite tunes. Every now and then, they would engage in improvised dancing to the sweet sounds.
Throughout the camp you can hear many tongues speaking many languages, the neighing of horses, the lowing of oxen, the barking of hundreds of dogs, and the shouts and yells of fresh arrivals to camp as they pour hourly in to swell the numbers of the already vast encampment.
In the afternoon, if the weather was favorable, most of the people in the camp would gather on some level stretch of prairie outside, where footraces might happen. A course would be set out, and well-known leaders of the hunt would be stationed at either end as judges. The racers would run their fastest, and people would bet on their favorite. Later, the horse racing would begin. Betting for these races would run high, and the wagers were generally horse against horse or for the carts and oxen. As the racers lunged across the course, people would break forth in cheers of encouragement. All points of disagreement were quickly settled by the dictum of the umpires, and the loser of the race would console himself for the loss in copious draughts of rum. Toward night the huge camp became resonant again with a more intense babel of sounds. The lucky winner of the races would parades their winnings in front of the camp, and everyone would cheer.
As the night advanced, the camp would grow even more boisterous. The women would gather the children and disappear from the campfires, taking themselves and the young ones out of harm's way. The men would take to sitting about the fires, drinking and talking amongst themselves. The campfires lit up the camp with strange shadows and lurid glares. The entertainment would continue late into the night, and, when the fires began to flicker and die out, there would be men stretched about the firesides, sleeping off their night of revelry and dreaming of the upcoming hunt.
Haworth, P.A. (1921). Trailmakers of the Northwest. New York: Harcourt, Brace and company.
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